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Things Are Not As They Appear

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“Things Are Not As They Appear”

Mark 12.35-44


Shalom. My name is Yosef. I am a Jewish scribe. And being a scribe, I possess great wisdom regarding the Law of Moses. In fact, I have a PhD from Harvard. I understand that you have been studying the Scriptures, namely about Jesus. You need to know that I, too, am a student of the Scriptures. I am a Pharisee who studies diligently the Law of Moses. We are very scrupulous in our interpretations and hold people to strict adherence to this Law. And perhaps we add a few additional requirements of the people as well. You know, just in case we’ve missed something.  

I’m not so sure of this Jesus fellow. He speaks and acts as if he is some sort of authority on the Scriptures. I’ve never seen him in any of the educational institutions (and he doesn’t even have a Master’s degree…). People seem to listen to him. They think he is some sort of revolutionary. Somehow he tricks the commoners by pretending to heal them. I even heard that he made the blasphemous assertion of forgiving sins! What a heretic! Along with the rest of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herodians, we have been trying to bring justice to this blasphemer! And we will. I feel that we are getting close.

Jesus claims to be from God and yet he is just so intolerant and divisive. How does he think that he has it right and no one else? What arrogance! Why he’d probably even suggest that unless anyone believes in him that they are left to be condemned. Jesus is so dogmatic and has no desire to enter into conversations about philosophical things.

I also understand that he will even say some things about us in the text you are looking at this morning. Just remember, we are the authorities. He is merely a peasant from Nazareth. I am a very learned man – much smarter than you or this Jesus. I have connections. People look up to me. Pay no mind to this intolerant revolutionary who rocks the boat.

Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 12. Read. Pray.

We find ourselves in the Passion Week of Christ. This is the time leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross. The animosity is intensified against him. The religious leaders continue to bombard Jesus with questions in order to indict him. Jesus, in turn, is seeking to condemn the leaders and their religious system that does not save.

So I want our launching point today to be the words found in verse 38. Jesus no longer is concerned that people discover who he is. He is not keeping things under wraps any more. He knows that he will be quickly fulfilling his mission on the cross. And thus he speaks most directly to the issues at hand. Verse 35 indicates that he is in the temple courts teaching the people that have assembled to Jerusalem for the time of the Passover.

And in verse 38, Jesus boldly declares “Beware of the scribes!” Watch out for them! Be on your guard against these scribes! Where are the scribes? Yep. Probably right there. He has been fielding their questions in the previous section of our text. He doesn’t seem to mind calling them out here.

In our times (and I believe the Canadian context), it has become increasingly unpopular to point out false teachers or false teachings. Am I right? I recall recently hearing some comments regarding a pastor I admire because of his commitment to the Word of God and the declaration of the Gospel of Christ. He was characterized as a “mud-slinger.” By this, I believe he referred to the fact that he was not afraid to identify some false teachings regarding the nature of salvation. As many of you know, John MacArthur takes a lot of heat because he identifies the false teachers by name. His philosophy is, if these people are willing to assume the limelight, promote and benefit from their false teachings, they need to be held accountable. I agree.     

Consider the amount of Scripture directed to false teachings and the commands to ensure sound doctrine.  Acts 20:28–31 “28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.”

2 Corinthians 11:13–15 “13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Peter 2:1–3 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

Jude 3–4 (ESV) “3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Notice that these are people that would have blended in the churches. They were likely those would have come and worshiped week after week. And very subtly, they began to introduce false teachings and destructive heresies.

I hope you understand the importance of being able to identify false teaching and its danger to the church of Jesus Christ. You also need to understand that when you attempt to be faithful to these things, it comes at a cost. You will be labeled as intolerant and legalistic. But more importantly, you will be called ‘faithful’ by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice also who it is that is guilty of such things in the Gospels. It is not the Roman oppressors or other foreign nations. It is the Jewish religious leaders who bear the brunt of Jesus’ condemnation. These were very influential learned men. So what was it? What was it that drew the ire of the Lord Jesus?

Let’s look at verses 35-37. I believe that one of the reasons that Jesus teaches the people to be on guard against the scribes is because they didn’t get Jesus right. That’s our first point, They Misrepresented Jesus. Jesus is teaching the crowds in the temple area and he throws out this question, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” I’m sure there were likely several people that were scratching their heads over this question.

We know that Matthew’s Gospel begins by very specifically detailing the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In verse 1, Matthew identifies Jesus Christ as the son of David. Luke’s Gospel is the same. We recall the many Old Testament prophetic passages indicating that the Messiah would sit on the throne of David.

But we see also that the majority of these leaders and the people expected the Messiah to be solely a political figure who would relieve the physical oppression and establish the physical kingdom. They did not realize that they needed primarily deliverance from their spiritual oppression and citizenship in a heavenly kingdom. So, in a sense, the scribes got it partially right. Jesus is the son of David. But he is so much more. He is the Divine Son who would not only conquer kings and kingdoms in the distant future, but he would destroy Satan, sin, and death by his ‘victory’ on the cross. And the scribes (and others) seemingly missed Psalm 110.1 that is quoted here.

Jesus attributes the Psalm to David and, interestingly, also includes the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in his words. “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” David is referring to the One who is yet to come in this Psalm. And David includes the fact that he is speaking to not only his son, but his Lord. Jesus here is proclaiming the deity of the promised Messiah and not merely his physical lineage.

Recall with me what Paul wrote in Romans 1. Romans 1:1–6 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

This is a great mystery that many cannot reconcile. In the person of Jesus Christ, he was fully man and fully God. If you dismiss either of these truths, you do not have Jesus right. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus to be God. So they would not accept David’s own testimony about him – though he spoke by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they would be considered false teachers.

I used to think that it would be kind of neat to own or manage a Christian book store. I don’t think so anymore. There is so much out there that is labeled “Christian” that really isn’t. There are many who either don’t get Jesus’ person or his ministry right. This makes it extremely difficult for those who are given oversight over churches. Let me explain.

We live in a time when everybody has an opinion and unprecedented opportunities to express that opinion. We could talk about internet blogging and social networks. But this is increasingly the case in book publishing. As opportunity arises and biblical discernment decreases and the possibility of monetary benefit for such teachings are present, there is a growing availability of people’s novel thoughts that are false teachings.

So this puts those responsible to filter such material at a serious disadvantage. Not only does the sheer volume overwhelm such people, but they are also put in the position of having to identify larger quantities of false teachings. And they are made to appear as intolerant, narrow-minded and divisive. Does that make sense?

So, here is my plea. Let’s engage in our due diligence in the Word of God so that we do not fall prey to novel thoughts or the new teachings. There is great temptation to follow the new ideas (ie., the new kind of Christian or the new Christianity). The new kinds are often less demanding and are more figments of our imagination.   

Also, with greater opportunity to expose such false teaching, we can become overly consumed with this pursuit. In our efforts of discernment and pointing out what the Gospel isn’t, let’s make sure that we are faithful to declare what the Gospel is. We can also find ourselves increasingly proud and uncompassionate in our dealings. Let us discern with compassion and pray for those who are responsible for these teachings and also those who are exposed to them. Beware of the scribes.

Beware of the scribes because They Misrepresent Godliness. Point two. They Misrepresent Godliness. Jesus says that they like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts. These scribes had become proud and were consumed with the thrill of honor and recognition. Not only does Jesus say that it happened, but they liked it! 

They wore these special robes that would indicate their status as religious leaders. They would be acknowledged by the people in the public square. And they would sit where the important people sat in the synagogues. 

There is no place for this for the Christian. The sinner who is exposed to the grace of God cannot boast at all. I mentioned briefly last week, that through some of the teaching I have experienced over the past month, I have revisited the nature and miracle of my salvation. This is a very healthy thing to do for your spiritual state. I’ll explain.

When we understand our state before God apart from Christ, we are overwhelmed at the prospect of eternity with Satan in hell. Ephesians 2 and Romans and elsewhere indicate that we are helpless and powerless to do anything about our sinful state because we are spiritually dead. But, as John 3 indicates, the Spirit blows where it wills and enlivens some to salvation. 2 Corinthians 4 says that in the same way that God created light out of darkness, so he has shone a light in our hearts to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Our salvation is a miracle and we cannot claim any credit. Ephesians 2 says that, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Grace eliminates pride and boasting and claiming any glory for ourselves. Any boasting robs God of the glory he deserves. There is no room for boasting for the Christian. Personally, I am amazed when I consider the wonder of my salvation. From eternal damnation to eternal salvation, from darkness to light, he has saved me. How can I claim any credit? How can anyone pursue recognition and glory?

These thoughts should lead us to the utmost humility and sacrificial service for the kingdom. I don’t know how we can look down upon anyone in the church or those who don’t know Christ. The only thing we can boast in is the cross of Jesus!

The scribes then face this accusation from Jesus. He says that they devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. “Esthiw” in Greek means “to eat, consume.” In reference to the widows’ houses the Greek word is “katesthiw.” It is a compound word that includes a preposition. This is a way to intensify the word. Hence, the scribes “devour” widows’ houses.

What the scribes were doing was preying on the weak and vulnerable. Though they were prohibited from pay for their teaching, they were accepting money from widows and even drawing from their estates. Instead of caring for them, they were manipulating and exploiting them.

In addition, John MacArthur adds, “the scribes often served as estate planners for widows, which gave them the opportunity to convince distraught widows that they would be serving God by supporting the temple or the scribe’s own holy work. In either case, the scribe benefited monetarily and effectively robbed the widow of her husband’s legacy to her.”

You are probably aware that this stands in direct opposition to biblical directives. James 1:27 “27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

And judgments are reserved for those who oppress them. Malachi 3:5 says, “5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Zechariah 7:9–10 “9 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

And there is yet another indictment against the scribes. Look down to verses 41-44. It is likely that your section heading reads something like, “the widow’s offering” or “the widows mite.” Something like this. And I’ll bet that most of you were taught this as a lesson in sacrificial giving. Am I right? The lesson goes something like… lots of rich people came forward and put large sums of money in the offering box. But then a woman comes forward and puts all that she has and is to be commended for the greater sacrifice given to God. This is what I was taught. But my understanding of the text has changed. And this is due largely to context.

It makes no sense, that in the middle of the Passion Week as Jesus is going to the cross and he is headlong in indictments against the religious leaders of the day and then he will launch into the descriptions of the destruction of the temple that he would insert this teeny little reminder about sacrificial giving.

We have probably also read into the story the heart motives that were present within the widow and Jesus here. But the text does not make any conclusions for us regarding the honorability of such things. The text does not indicate that the widow gave gratefully, or out of fear, or obligation. And, in fact, it does not say that Jesus acknowledged this as acceptable or honorable behavior. He simply makes an observation about a greater cost from the widow.

And, if we understand this to be a noble expression of total faith in God, then the application for us goes something like this. As soon as we leave here, we should go call our banks and see what the remaining balance is in our accounts and we should write a check out for that amount and put it in the offering basket. Wouldn’t this also demonstrate honorable faith in God? Or might we consider it irresponsible and irrational? Does not God provide food, clothing, and shelter with what he has graciously given us financially?

I believe that the addition of this short account is further indictment against the religious leaders and the established religious system. This has been shown to be a religious system that is abusive to the poor. What religious system would willingly accept the last bit of money that she has? For this widow, this likely meant that she would go home and die. Do you think that this is honorable?

This is a further explanation of how the scribes would devour the widows – the very people they should be caring for. I don’t think that Jesus is applauding these events, but is angered by them!

This act of giving would take place in the court of women so that the giving would be in full view of as many as possible. The rich would come and put their large sums of money into these trumpet-shaped receptacles. The money would likely clang as it was deposited and would draw attention to the amount that was inserted.

The scribes and the other religious leaders were characterized by Jesus for their hypocrisy. Throughout the Gospels, he repeatedly identified that they had the right appearances on the outside, but their hearts were not clean. They were able to present themselves as spiritual, but in reality they will be worse off than others. Verse 40 contains these strong words, “they will receive the greater condemnation.”

They will receive the greater condemnation because they were the ones who influenced those in their care. They misrepresented Jesus and even opposed the promised Messiah. They declared him a heretic and blasphemer. And they were guilty of influencing others. And in our text, they preyed on the weak. They manipulated and devoured the very ones that were to be especially cared for. And this angered Jesus. They robbed God of glory by desiring their own recognition and accolades. They prided themselves on their superficial prayers and status – rather than humbling themselves under their Lord.

They way that they preyed on the weak is not that unique. We read about the days of Martin Luther also where the Roman church would prey on the weak by their practice of indulgences to free loved ones from purgatory and guarantee their presence in heaven. And these monies would then be used to build St. Peter’s Basillica. They preyed on the weak to benefit the rich.

Televangelists today promise healing and wealth. And ironically, this all comes at a monetary cost. The ones exposed and manipulated in such cases are the weak and physically handicapped. And as much as we are angered by such things, the Lord Jesus more so. And he will assign to these the “greater condemnation.”

As Christians, we have been given the tremendous privilege to share the good news of how the miracle of salvation came to us – that as we trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been born again by the Spirit of God. And this leaves no room for boasting, but only humility and gratitude. And it brings the glory to God.

We must ensure that we do not misrepresent the message of the Gospel. We must not misrepresent Jesus as the Son of God who died for our sins. There is only one way to the Father and that is through the Son.

We must also make sure that our lives reflect the nature of our salvation. We live lives that authentically communicate who we are in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we clean the outside of the cup while our hearts remain wicked. It means that when we sin, we repent of our sin and grow in godliness. The world thinks us hypocrites. Let us do everything in our strength to show them a transformed life.

“Let us rather be doubly careful to adorn our doctrine by our lives. Let us prove our sincerity by the consistency of our lives. Let us show the world that there is true coin, as well as counterfeit coin, and that the visible Church contains Christians who can witness a good confession, as well as Pharisees and Scribes. Let us confess our Master modestly and humbly, but firmly and decidedly, and show the world that although some men may be hypocrites, there are others who are honest and true.” – J. C. Ryle

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